Sunday, November 12, 2023

Loch Ness Marathon Race Report 2023

 On October 1, I completed my 18th marathon and my first international marathon at Loch Ness, and it was WONDERFUL! That's it, that's the race report. In all seriousness, this tale begins a year or so ago, when I was hanging out with Joy and she mentioned that she wanted to run this marathon in Scotland. Without a second thought I said "hell yes, I'm in" - to the point where she didn't even believe me, and I recall vividly that she told Andrew that he had to hold me accountable to actually doing the race. Turns out it wasn't a tough sell - a trip to Scotland sounded amazing, I was all for the idea of a marathon done truly for fun, and sometime back in the spring I found myself hitting submit for my first international race!

Obviously many things happened between then and now, the most obvious being the fact that I raced IMLP in late July. And as it turns out, the time between late July and the first day of October is, uh, not actually that much time. By the time I had taken a week of recovery from the Ironman, I realized that I had about 6 weeks total to cram in some marathon training before tapering again. The problem was, after a Boston cycle followed immediately by an Ironman cycle, I was not, shall we say, at my most motivated to train for a marathon. In fact, I may have been the least motivated I have EVER been to train for a marathon! Combine that with the shortened timeframe and absolutely atrocious humid weather and you can see where this is going - all in all, it wasn't exactly what most of us would call quality marathon training. I skipped 2 long runs to go hiking (to be fair, those hikes were 22 and 13 miles with a boatload of elevation and I think both of them actually contributed to my success, but I still felt like a delinquent) and 1 due to getting sick, leaving me with a grand total of 2 17 mile runs, a 20 mile run, and a 13 mile run, all of which were completed at the chillest of chill paces. I listened to an ACOTAR podcast on pretty much all of my runs, which saved my motivation from the pit of despair, I turned off the mile split notifications on my watch, and in general I just gave zero f*cks about anything other than attempting to cobble together at least a reasonable amount of miles. By the time race week rolled around, I didn't feel confident I was going to run very fast, but I at least felt confident that I could complete a marathon and not feel like a disaster while doing so, and so with that extremely low bar set for myself, I headed off to Scotland!

We did the usual overnight flight thing, during which I got maybe 3 hours of sleep but did achieve the bonus of having second dinner on the plane, which happened to be a surprisingly decent pasta. Carbs! I was awoken to the sounds of a child in front of me vomiting everywhere and was immediately glad I had decided to wear a mask in the event the source of his vomit was a norovirus. We disembarked in the UK around 8:30 am, a little groggy but all excited to be there, and met up with Brittany before braving the left side of the road driving to our hotel in Edinburgh. The beauty of this being a "for fun" marathon was that there was nothing held back in terms of touristing - we walked over 10 miles on Friday sightseeing around the city, hiking up to some cathedral ruins, and touring the castle and the vaults, something I never would have been comfortable with if I was truly racing (particularly because my legs felt absolutely AWFUL after the flight) but in this situation it wasn't anxiety inducing at all.

Saturday morning we did a quick shakeout around Edinburgh and then loaded up for the 3 hour drive to Inverness, where the race was located. The drive went by quickly because we were all gawking at the scenery - Scotland is absolutely otherworldly, definitely one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Bib pickup featured Scottish set musicians and a giant Loch Ness monster, because of course it did. What it did not feature was anywhere to obtain lunch, and so in another total faux pas but something that I didn't let bother me because of the casualness of the situation, we didn't even eat lunch the day before a marathon! Luckily, Joy had brought an entire box of Saltines and I had brought an entire box of graham crackers for carb loading purposes, and so we were able to consume those as we went out on a boat cruise on Loch Ness - pretty much the perfect pre race activity, sightseeing without walking! I even had a pretty great local pilsner while on the boat, and because pretty much all Scottish beer falls in the 4% ABV range I didn't even feel bad about it!

Our AirBnB was absolutely delightful and we headed back there after stopping by the local Tesco and learning that many things that we take for granted in US grocery stores (fresh garlic, shredded parmesan cheese...) are a little harder to find in the UK! Still, we had a great home cooked meal of my old standby butter tomato sauce, meatballs, salad, and of course some beer and wine. Every time I thought about the fact that I was running a marathon the next day I would start laughing...I wasn't nervous, just the idea of it seemed so utterly ridiculous as to be comical. How was this really happening? 

I slept reasonably well despite the sounds of people coming home from the pubs in the wee hours of the morning and was up before my alarm at 6 am. I quickly got my race kit on and headed down into the kitchen where I had what I'm pretty sure is my new go to race breakfast...toast and GOOD JAM! I also drank some "breakfast juice" which is some kind of mixture of orange, clementine, and grapefruit juice and had some french press coffee, the only time I had 'real' coffee on the entire trip! We headed off to the bus dropoff, a little confused by how dark it still was as we approached the 7 o clock hour. Things at the start were well organized, and Joy and I availed ourselves of the porta potties before quickly getting on a shuttle bus where we waited for awhile (I think they sent most of the buses off at the same time) before beginning our drive out to the start.

The bus ride was SO cool - I kept marveling at what a difference experience being on this bus was compared to the urban highway situation of Boston. The lake was shrouded in fog as the sun began to rise, creating a completely magical scene as we wound our way through the forest. At one point we stopped briefly in a small town next to a field full of cows and I once again couldn't help but laugh - that certainly wasn't something I had seen on any point to point marathon bus in the past! I realized that I actually haven't run a marathon that wasn't a point to point (or a world major) since 2017, which is completely ridiculous, and Joy laughed at me for becoming such a diva that I only do these huge races. 

We finally arrived at the starting point after the typically lengthy bus ride (seriously, how is it that the drive to the start of a marathon always somehow takes an hour and a half?) and it was wild. I remembered reading somewhere that the start of the race was "in the middle of nowhere" and it was a good idea to bring extra layers, etc for the wait before the start as there was really no shelter or resources to speak of. I guess I didn't totally believe that, but WOW was it accurate - truly, the bus stopped, we got off on a road with nothing as far as the eye could see but heather and rolling hills and fields, the only evidence of humanity the cluster of porta potties, a truck for bag drop, and a speaker blasting of all random things "Love Shack" which felt totally incongruous to the surroundings. From the second I got off the bus, the beauty and isolation of it all had me absolutely giddy. I couldn't stop looking around, gaping as I took in the reality of the scenery and the fact that I was going to run a freaking MARATHON in this setting. 

We immediately got in line for the porta potties - by far the most scenic porta potties I've ever been a part of - and then milled around for a bit waiting to drop our gear bags until the last minute. The gear truck closed about 20 minutes before the start, and while it was a pretty pleasant morning the wind was brisk - I was glad I'd brought one of my many random space blankets that I eternally save "in case" lol. Some nice man gave Joy a trash bag to keep warm and we started to make our way up towards the start corrals. In typical Audrey fashion, about 10 minutes before the start I once again realized that I really needed to pee. There were men roaming off into the heather left and right to do their business, and I was feeling jealous until I saw one bold woman make her way off into the corner as well and I decided, you know what, it's not like this is anyone's property! We were literally in the wilderness, and I had to laugh as I crouched behind an absolutely miniscule bush...but I felt SO much better afterward! Was it worth it? You bet it was.

I think maybe there was some brief announcement, but at 10 am on the dot with little to no fanfare, a horn sounded and the race began! As we exited the starting area, there was a bagpipe corps playing on both sides of the road, and it was SO COOL. The wide open road with a gorgeous morning was ahead, nothing but beautiful, wild hills on either side, and we were off and was magical. I reached back to adjust my phone in my bra pocket and I heard Joy say "I thought you were pulling out your phone to take a picture!" that she mentioned it....I felt like this was the type of race where I didn't mind losing a couple seconds to capture the view, and so I went ahead and did just that. 

The first several miles of the race are fairly straight downhill, very similar to Boston - in fact, the course felt similar to Boston in many ways, except with WAY better views and significantly bigger hills! I really only looked at my watch in the first couple of miles to ensure I wasn't being a complete moron - I genuinely had no idea what I was capable of running on this day, but I was fairly certain that whatever it was didn't involve any sub 7 miles or anything crazy like that. I was pleased to find myself bopping along feeling very relaxed in the mid 7:30s, which seemed appropriate for early downhill. The effort felt right, so once I realized that I wasn't going to do anything stupid, I completely stopped looking at my watch and in fact only glanced at it a couple of times during the entirety of the rest of the race! It was such a freeing feeling to genuinely not care about the numbers on the clock, but more importantly it gave me the opportunity to actually run by effort for once in my life. Marathon pace *is* an effort, and I know 100% how I should feel at a certain mile of a marathon, but it's so easy sometimes to get stuck in the numbers and send yourself off on a truly idiotic adventure during the first half before everything comes back to bite you. For the whole of this race, even when it got hard, I knew the effort was exactly where it was supposed to be, and that gave me this great sense of calm that regardless of what pace I was running at any given moment, it was the right one. 

I found myself in a calm and comfortable mindset as the first few miles unfolded, constantly looking at the beauty around me and feeling so utterly grateful to be there. At some point I found myself running behind a group of younger Scottish men who were chatting and we passed by a sheep standing alone very close to the road. I of course had to say "HI SHEEP!" and then laughed to myself at what these Scotsman who I'm sure see sheep on a very regular basis must have thought of the dumb American woman behind them saying hi to the livestock, lol. 

I decided at the last minute to spring for the Aftershokz headphones so that I could run with music, because despite the fact that I knew I could probably stay in the moment and just enjoy the scenery without it, I also knew that I would definitely enjoy myself more if I had it, especially if things started to turn south. Somewhere early in the race the song Manchester by Kishi Bashi came on, and the lyrics "I haven't been this alive in a long time" almost made me cry. Sure, I knew I was starting this marathon at a fitness that some past version of myself would have been appalled at, but after a year of a relationship with running that felt tumultuous at best and abusive at worst, I realized as I flowed through the fields of sheep and the rolling hills that I was running, and I was happy. And it was just such an important thing in that moment, which the cinematic qualities of that song seemed to drive home even more. 

I had heard some rumblings in my (admittedly very limited) research of the race that while the course profile was net downhill, there were quite a few rolling hills in the mix. That point was proven early on when around mile 5 I turned a corner to find myself staring at a STEEP hill, a hill which would turn out to last nearly half a mile! After the race Joy and I were both joking that we felt like we'd been teleported into Mount Washington for a second; the road was surrounded with dewy greenery, and the grade was every bit as steep as something you'd encounter in the early phases of that race! Now, had I been "racing", this might have really thrown me, but in the setting of just enjoying a lovely 26.2 mile run in the countryside, I simply modified my effort to get myself back to that sweet spot, told myself that what went up would eventually come down, and forged my way up the hill. Simple! This whole 'just running' thing was seeming better and better by the minute. I did allow myself a moment of consideration for how my quads were going to hold up to the net downhill, but again, I figured I knew what the effort was supposed to be like and all I had to do was keep it steady. Somewhere in this general area "Shots" also came on my playlist, which was perfectly keeping with my theme of approaching this marathon as if it were an extra long Reach the Beach leg - run by effort, try hard but don't kill yourself, HAVE FUN - and I definitely sang along for a little bit so you're welcome to the men who got to hear me whisper-sing "SUCK MY COCK" lmao. 

The rolling hills continued through the next couple of miles; after running through an area with a few houses we ended up on a road that was so small it literally was the size of a Massachusetts bike path - I kept laughing whenever I would remember that we were actually on a ROAD. I had to modify my gel schedule somewhat due to the water stops, which were relatively spread out (something like 4/9/13/17/23 or something to that effect), but they were actually giving out 12 oz bottles of water which I didn't mind carrying for a bit nearly as much as I thought I would. I sort of fell into the rhythm of taking water, drinking a good amount, and carrying it for the next mile or so - partially this was also because there were only spots to toss trash every mile or so, and I really didn't want to litter in this pristine landscape.

Somewhere around mile 8 we finally reached a point where you could see the loch off on the left. The road ran through this corridor of tall evergreens, creating this dark and incredibly atmospheric feeling. I actually took out my camera and took a video of a bit of this section (while also holding a water bottle...I had to run a few steps with it in my mouth while putting my phone back in my bra, LOL). A few moments later, it started to RAIN - it was just a short shower, but it was so magical. I was still feeling great at whatever pace I was running (Strava actually indicates it was in the high 7:30s/low7:40s, which I DEFINITELY did not realize at the time), I was in this glorious place with the rain falling...I honestly could not have been happier.

One interesting thing that I became aware of around this point in the race was the fact that I was COMPLETELY surrounded by men - in fact, once I noticed it I actually started keeping a count of how many women I saw after mile 3 of the race, and the result was less than 10! When I looked at the results it actually seemed like the mens and womens fields were relatively equal, so I'm not sure if it wasn't so much that there weren't many women as it was that there weren't many fast-ish women, but it was definitely not a situation I've ever found myself in. Sure, I often end up running with middle age men, but there are always some women in the mix as well! I liked the idea of picturing myself as this strong women among a pack of men, and since there were so few women it gave me a boost when I would see one in the distance and see if I could reel her in. 

The section between the rainstorm and the half passed without much of note. I do remember one random house on the side of the course with a window on the second floor overlooking the runners, and there was this elderly woman up there with a blanket on her lap smiling and waving at us, which was absolutely adorable. We were still sort of in the middle of nowhere so spectators were fairly few and far between, but there was still the occasional cluster of a few folks or a family standing at their driveway, and what spectators there were were extremely warm and welcoming! My favorite thing I heard from a spectator was the very British sounding phrase of "You're SMASHING it!" I had taken a gel around mile 8 and was planning on waiting until 12ish for my next one, but I found myself feeling pretty hungry around mile 10 and decided to eat it a little bit early - I also figured this might help me line my gels up a little better with the water stations, which had been a little awkward so far. The effort was definitely starting to get a little bit noticeable here - Joy and I had discussed the section in the middle of the race which appeared to be completely flat on the course map. "I hope it's not TOO flat," Joy had remarked, and as I continued to run through what seemed like either endless undulating hills or a false flat that I was convinced was climbing for a couple of miles I couldn't help but laugh at that concern. We certainly were NOT going to have to worry about this course being too flat - in the end we wound up with between 900-1000 feet of elevation gain. Talk about a "net downhill" that really makes you work for it...but I honestly I think these are the types of courses where I thrive.

Miles 11 and 12 seemed to take longer than they should have, and I was somewhat relieved to see the "halfway" sign with a cute little "SMILE! You're halfway there!" message. This was really where things started to head into unknown territory - obviously, I knew I could run 13 miles at a reasonable pace, but my lack of running anything over 17 miles at any sort of brisk effort left the second half of this race something of a black box. I glanced at my watch and noted something in the low 1:43s for 13:1 - certainly better than I would have expected, but I also was very aware that there was a whole lot more downhill in the first half of the race than the second. The middle section of the race was just very classic marathon - I didn't feel *awesome* but I didn't feel terrible, and I sort of felt like I could sustain the effort and just keep plugging away. By this point I had been running with essentially the same little group for a few miles, including an older gentleman who I seemed to be constantly running side by side with who seemed to be checking his watch VERY frequently - looking back I think it was because he was British and had his watch set to kilometer splits, but in the moment I just could not understand why anyone would want to be looking at their watch every 5 minutes. I mean, I wasn't looking at my watch at ALL! I WAS FREE! I can't understate how wonderful it's been to completely disconnect from splits and my watch while running. Not only do I feel like I can actually pay attention to how I'm feeling effort-wise, but there's this mental battle that I've had with myself for years every time I look at my watch that is finally just gone. Because let's be real: it didn't matter. My only goal for this race was to have fun, finish, and not fuck myself up so royally that I couldn't enjoy the rest of my vacation, and so far that mission was being accomplished.

A sort of interesting surprise that became more noticeable in the second half was the fact that it ended up being a relatively warm day (~60s) and SUNNY, which I certainly did not expect for my marathon in Scotland! In fact, I actually discovered after the race that I got some color on my face which I found mildly hilarious. In the moment I was still relatively composed but I could tell that I wasn't quite rolling along as smoothly as I had been up until about mile 15. I basically knew that there was going to come a point when things were going to get rough - I mean, that's a given in any marathon but in a marathon where you've trained poorly it's even MORE of a given - and I kept acknowledging that every mile that went by without a crash was one less mile I had to deal with. Again, I wasn't perseverating on it in the moment but looking at my Garmin I see that around mile 14 was where I started to slow a bit, with the pace dropping down into the high 7s/low 8s. Of note, there was more elevation in this area compared to the several miles past, and I think while I was feeling things becoming more difficult I was doing a good job of trying to keep the effort consistent, and it makes sense that my pace would change accordingly! 

I was thinking about 2 things as I approached the 16 mile mark: one, I started wondering when the giant hill was coming, because I couldn't remember whether it started or ended at mile 18. The other thing I started thinking about was the ALPACA FARM that I had seen on maps when I had been browsing the course on Google, and sure enough, I reached the top of a (rather unpleasant, TBH) hill and there were ALPACAS! I almost took a photo and I sort of wish I had, because there were 3 alpacas in the most perfect pose with one standing, one kind of kneeling, and one lying down with this gorgeous tableau of the loch and the mountains in the background. I think I maybe gave it a little extra gas due to my excitement about the alpacas, which I paid for shortly after with a weird high hamstring cramp. I took a quick walk break to sort it out and was able to get back in business pretty quickly - for me personally, sometimes a quick walk break to figure something out is the move over trying to run through it. I'm usually able to resume running at a faster pace and despite the short time of moving slower, I'm convinced that my overall pace is faster in the end...unless I'm walking because of heat stroke, then all bets are off. But this wasn't that! So anyway, a quick shakeout and I was back on the move, looking forward to the next water station before the town of Dorne and the upcoming climb.

Dorne itself was an absolute delight, with spectators packing the roads and pretty HYPE spectators at that! I kept an eye out for Joy's parents, who she had said were planning to be around mile 17 or 18, and I was able to catch them on the right side of the road as they cheered adorable. Hilariously, when they saw Joy a little later one of the first things her dad screamed at her was "WE SAW AUDREY!", lol. I knew that at some point past the town the climbing was going to start, and so it did - gradually at first, to the point where I almost kind of thought, huh, is it this grade the whole way? This isn't so bad.... But then I looked ahead and saw the grade start to steepen, accompanied by a little sign from the race that said "It's just a wee hill..." Ah yes, here it was....the famed Dorne Hill.

Well, I won't lie: a 2 mile climb at mile 19/20 of a marathon is not a particularly fun time! There was carnage all around me - it seemed like everyone was walking, and I won't pretend I wasn't among them. I could feel when my heart rate climbed above the acceptable threshold and I tried to give myself 10 or 15 seconds to try to bring it down before starting again. It worked pretty well - I passed a pretty decent number of people on the climb simply by plugging away. Was it fast? Absolutely not - my 2 miles up the hill clocked 9:06 and 8:41 - but it was forward motion, and more importantly despite the fact that my legs were DEFINITELY starting to feel the lack of mileage and my body was starting to get excited about the eventual prospect of *not* running anymore, I didn't feel like I was drowning in the fatigue hole - it wasn't that hard to convince myself to keep moving forward, I just couldn't go all that fast. 

Luckily, on a net downhill course what goes up must (at least somewhat) go down, so once we crested the hill I was greeted with a blissful downhill, on which I let it rip as much as I felt I could. Despite my earlier worries, the one thing that was absolutely rock solid throughout this entire race was my quads - I gave myself a hard time for skipping 2 of my long runs for hikes, but I've gotta say I think ripping my legs to shreds on the mountain downhills actually set me up for great success on a course that also required running a lot of downhill. Sure, everything else basically felt like trash at this point, but at least my quads were solid! It felt really nice to no longer be running uphill, and I was starting to believe that I could finish this thing faster than I'd ever pictured. It was somewhere around here, rolling on the downhill when Noah Kahan's "Dial Drunk" came on my playlist. That song for some reason hits perfectly for running fast in the woods and it brought a smile to my face as I headed into the last 3 miles of the course.

There is another giant hill at mile 23ish that is just simply rude; about a half mile long and significantly steeper than the Dorne climb, it was like Heartbreak Hill on crack and my legs were NOT amused. Luckily, I happened to have come upon a rare woman who appeared to be running with her husband, and for some reason I found them super annoying - I'm not actually sure if they were doing anything particularly annoying, but in the moment I was convinced that they were just taking up the entire road by running side by side. Anyway, they were an excellent carrot to chase particularly during the few instances where I would briefly walk between cones, they would pass me, and I would instantly get a shot of adrenaline and decide that I needed to get a move on regardless of how my legs were feeling. I may say that my competitive fire has left me, but instances like these remind me that it's not entirely gone, haha.

Once we crested the hill I knew that there was no more major climbing to contend with and all that was left to do was hold on for another couple of miles to the finish. I won't lie, by this point my legs wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with running anymore - mentally and globally I was fine and I think I'd managed fueling and hydration extremely well even on a relatively warm day, but my legs were completely shot. I hadn't been able to find a place to dispose of the water bottle I'd taken several miles previously and I found myself becoming more and more annoyed by the fact that I still had to hold it in my hand long after I'd sprayed the last of its contents onto my head (yes, 60ish degrees and I'm dumping water on my head, in case you need a sense of how heat intolerant I am!). We hilariously had to run through a roundabout at around mile 24; hilarious because the entire weekend we had been making jokes about how many damn ROUNDABOUTS there are in Scotland, so it was only fitting that there was one on the marathon course! There was an absolutely incredible squad of 3 or 4 women who were on an Audrey level of hype cheering right as I entered the roundabout, and I screamed and waved my arms as they screamed at me - love, love, love a quality spectator.

The crowds increased significantly as we headed into town which was amazing - it was so clear throughout the entire race experience that the town of Inverness took such pride in hosting a great event and welcoming the runners to their town! I was absolutely in the pain cave by now, so probably didn't appreciate as much as I could have as I was solely focused on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling in the road. My calves were doing the annoying cramping thing that they sometimes tend to do at the end of marathons, making each step feel like a delicate dance to prevent landing the wrong way and having them fully seize up, and I just REALLY was looking forward to being done running, but I knew I had to hold on a little while longer.

At some point in here I saw Andrew, giving him some kind of vague wave as I didn't have energy for much more at mile 24.5. There were a couple of great breweries and bars getting rowdy as we turned toward the river and I could definitely feel the energy radiating out even as my legs threatened to collapse underneath me. Argh....just a little longer. I luckily knew in advance about the fact that you had to run past the finish line, out and over a bridge, and then back towards the finish line to finish, but I swear to god that stupid little bridge nearly broke me. The tiny uphill felt like a mountain, and my calves were rapidly entering the danger zone where I knew one funky step was going to send me to the ground, but as ever with one mile to go I forced myself to forgo the temptation of just one more short walk break and set my eyes on the finish line. It was tunnel vision at this point; I vaguely remember passing a guy who was walking, and for some reason vividly remember that the song that came on at the very end of the race was "Burn" by Ellie Goulding, which was a theme song to some long ago marathon of mine but that I haven't listened to in years. I still wasn't looking at my watch, because it truly didn't matter - the time on the clock would be what it would be, I was giving it everything I had in the moment and finding whatever I had left to fight to the finish. As I entered the chute I found a last burst of energy to pick it up, just a tiny bit, and managed to cross the line feeling strong...and fairly shocked as I looked at my watch and realized that off the tiniest little training cycle that I barely counted as marathon training, I had run a 3:31! Going into the race I had genuinely thought that I was likely to run 3:45-3:50, so to manage a decent BQ was a complete surprise. Honestly, feeling so strong during the race was a surprise too - it's almost like finding an appropriate effort and sticking with that over pace has some merit to it or something, because I really only found myself up against that red line in the last couple of miles. And I mean, if you're not on the red line in the last couple of miles of a marathon, no matter how "fun" of a run, I'm not sure you're entirely human. 

I waited around in the chute for a minute or two until my older man friend came through, as we had ended up running together for a good chunk of the race, leapfrogging in the later stages, and then me finally taking the lead a few miles from the end. He was a delightful British man in his 60s and it was fun chatting a bit and congratulating him on a race well run - we both agreed that for a net downhill course, this one certainly packed a punch! I made my way through the finishing area, obtaining an absolutely delicious NA radler beer, and was able to find Andrew and get my drop bag back pretty quickly. My legs were rapidly trying to disconnect from life but I managed to find my way over to the chute and lean pretty pathetically on it while cheering the runners in and waiting for Joy, who came in soon after under her goal of breaking 4!

We enjoyed a nice cask beer on the grass and swapped race stories, basking in what is always such a magical glow of finishing a marathon. I was certainly pleased with my time given the circumstances, but I was also just so delighted with how happy I had felt during the entire race experience. I had never been frustrated, or worried, or upset - when things got hard, I adjusted, or I fought, or I made it work, but I never had a moment where I got negatively in my head about anything. Sure, you could argue that going into a race with less-than-stellar training and no expectations lines you up well for an enjoyable mental experience, but it went beyond that. I have spent so much time and mental energy since I got injured in 2022 trying to find my way back to the runner I was before that injury and endlessly frustrated that that runner no longer seemed to exist. And maybe she doesn't. And maybe that's OK. And I think this marathon was the first time that I truly accepted the runner that I am right now - not to say that things won't change and evolve in the future, because maybe they will. Maybe the time will come where I want to give a PR one last shot. But I'm done with the mental burden that carries, and I'm done turning my hobby, something that I supposedly love to do, into a chore. In running Loch Ness I finally felt free of the ghost of my past self - I was running as I am now, and doing it with gratitude and freedom and joy. And that - rolling through stunning countryside in a place I've never been, working hard but being able to enjoy the ride at the same time, just being in the moment and not in a mental cage made by my watch - that is why I run.

Loch Ness Marathon 2023


287/3504 OA, 21/1332 F, 14/593 AG

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